My spiritual teacher, Mata Amritanandamayi, who is more commonly referred to as Amma, visits cities across North America each summer and then returns to offer programs in San Ramon, California and Michigan each November. I have not attended her November programs for several years since they are so close to the time when I take my yearly sojourn to her ashram in India. In fact, I often depart for India when Amma is still in Michigan.
It has been three or four years since I’ve been to the Michigan programs and I haven’t been to either the summer or the fall programs in San Ramon for six to eight years. I was surprised a month ago when I felt the strong desire to participate in the first two days of the November meetings in San Ramon. The desire stayed with me, so I booked my plane ticket and reserved a hotel room.
I had several goals:
- Spend time with Amma and receive her darshan (hug).
- See the changes that have taken place in her San Ramon ashram
- Walk the land
- Visit with the many friends I have in Amma’s community
- Be open to any learning opportunities that emerged
Time with Amma is always filled with so many experiences and it often seems like time is suspended. So even though I would only be there for two days, it would no doubt feel like a week. Whenever I am in Amma’s presence, life lessons seem to speed up and so many synchronicities occur. I looked forward to discovering what would happen on this trip.
I am writing this post after having returned from the San Ramon programs. I could write several chapters of a book about my experiences, but have decided to tell you my adventures in walking the land!
In the years since I was last in San Ramon, my life has taken a turn. I have become much more focused on Mother Nature. My eyes have opened and I now see things I never saw before, or at least I see them in a different way.
I knew that Amma had asked the San Ramon devotees to plant orchards on the property, so seeing those was definitely a priority. When I got out of the car on my first day, I looked across the parking lot and saw that there was a big orchard in the distance, nestled in the hills.
I arrived at the ashram several hours before Amma would come to the program hall so I decided to visit that orchard first. I asked a friend how to get their and he gave me a vague idea of how to find the path.
I followed those directions and found a path of sorts. As I made my way through the forest, there were times when fallen trees blocked my path. I crawled over or under them and continued on. (Note: If you click on any of the picture galleries, the photos will be enlarged.)
Taking this kind of walk reminded me of playing in the woods near my home when I lived on an army base in Germany as a child. Those were some of the happiest times of my childhood.
As I made my way towards an orchard I couldn’t see, I kept the vision of my first glimpse of the fruit trees in front of me. As I walked, I could see small portions of parked cars through the trees from time to time. I realized I was near some of the new parking lots, so felt assured I was going the right direction.
When I came out of the wooded area, I discovered there was a road going from the parking lot to the orchards. If I had known about it I would have reached my destination much faster, but I would have missed the journey and so much beauty.
Soon I arrived at the orchard. It covers quite a large area and was impossible to photograph in its entirety. It is late fall now so the trees look very different than they would have looked in spring and summer, but they were still a welcome sight to see.
Later that day, I explored the orchard that is between the main ashram house and the temple. There have been fruit trees in that location for many years, but now that area is totally devoted to the orchard and some solar panels.
My second, and biggest, “Walk the Land” adventure happened the following day. Around 11:00 a.m., I decided I wanted to walk from the main house to the house where Amma stays. I have taken that journey many times in the past, but not for years. It is some distance away so I thought it would take about forty-five minutes to get there and back.
It had rained during the night so there were areas of the path that were a bit muddy but it was still easy to walk on. There are many different types of terrain on that route and it was so beautiful. At one point, I saw another woman standing near a gully in front of me. I stopped and talked with her for a while and then continued on my way.
At one point, I decided the house was further than I wanted to go on that day. I decided I would only walk until I was at the point where I could see the house.
Once there, I turned around and headed back to the main ashram.
All was well until I reached the place where I had met the woman. At that point, I could no longer see a path. I had been distracted by talking with her and had not focused on any landmarks.
I found what could have been the path and took it, but it soon ended. I tried one “path” after another but they went nowhere. I was finding myself in areas where the land was wetter and I started slipping in the mud. I slid whether I was going up or going down.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t told anyone I was taking this walk, and that was a mistake. I had my cell phone so I could make a call, if there was phone reception, but otherwise no one would have any idea where I was. Anyone looking for me would just assume I had returned to my hotel.
What to do? Take one step at a time and keep moving forward. Try one route and then another. Deal with whatever comes up.
My shoes were caked with mud, making me slip even more. I decided to let go of any concern that my clothes stayed clean. When I needed to, I scooted downhill on my bottom or crawled where I wanted to go on my hands and knees.
I remembered my years of going to Christ in the Desert monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico. That monastery was 13 miles from the main highway and in those days the road to it was made of dirt. One side of the road was against a hill and on the other side there was a steep drop off. When it rained, the road became very slippery. One time I visited, the mud was so deep that it totally filled the tread of the tires. We swerved on that slippery surface as if we were driving on bald tires.
I realized that same thing had happened to my shoes. While the shoes didn’t have tread and were mostly smooth even when dry, they did have some small ridges. Remembering my experience with the tires, I sat down on the wet leaves, took off my shoes, pounded them against the earth and then used a twig to scrape off the thick mud. I was able to walk a little better after doing that.
After many more dead ends, I found myself face to face with a hill that went straight up. I probably remember it as being much higher than it actually was, but it was high enough that I had no idea what was on the other side. It seemed fruitless for me to continue walking on the lower ground, so I contemplated going up the hill. How would I do that though? The side of the hill was primarily made of wet clay, with some sporadic clumps of grass. I just slipped down it when I tried to climb.
I then recalled hearing that mountain climbers get up mountains by making holes where they can place their hands and feet and use those holes to boost themselves up the mountain one step at a time. I found that the clay was malleable so I started creating holes for my hands and feet. I did not look up and I did not look down. I focused only on making the holes and taking one step after the other. In that way, I moved up the steep hill.
I had no idea where I was, so didn’t know what I would find when I made it to the top. Once there, I was relieved to discover I was still on the ashram grounds. I was quite a distance from where I started, but I knew how to get back to the beginning of the path and did so.
Many years ago, my daughter had a challenging experience. After it was over, I asked if she had been afraid. She said, “No, I felt like Indiana Jones!” During this adventure, a part of me also felt like Indiana Jones, and I loved the sensation. It was as if I had been tested, and emerged victorious!
I recognized that throughout the challenge I had stayed true to so many of the attitudes I do my best to live by.
- Focus on the moment, not the future
- Live in awareness.
- Take one step at a time.
- Have faith.
- Trust that my life is unfolding as it should.
- Realize that the lessons I have learned in the past have prepared me for challenges I face in the present.
- Believe that I can deal with whatever happens
As I said at the beginning of this post, there were many other special moments during my two days with Amma but these are the one I have chosen to share. I will be leaving for Amma’s India ashram soon, and know that my days there will be filled with lessons. My time in San Ramon seems like the beginning of my next India adventure, thus my title for this post, “And so it begins……”
(Note: This post was not written with the Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory in mind, but it certainly fits the criteria so I will use it for that purpose as well!)